Powerful pictures showing Jewish families reunited in America after being separated in Europe during the Holocaust are on display at the Centre for Jewish History in New York, based on archives from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS).
Annie Polland, the society’s executive director, said the timing of the exhibition, titled When The Golden Door Closed, They Carried The Torch, was particularly relevant in light of recent reports that US President Donald Trump might return to his policy of separating families as parents or children are deported.
The pictures feature in an AJHS show at the Centre for Jewish History. It tracks the work of Jewish people and organisations that continued to help immigrants and refugees despite a punitive immigration quota law.
The “Golden Door” refers to the 1883 poem by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, whose lines are fixed to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. Its famous words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, became the bedrock of the idea of melting-pot America.
Polland said: “Jews founded many organisations to help immigrants, despite political rhetoric supporting immigration restriction.”
Two years before Lazarus published her poem, Jews founded the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which continues to help displaced people and refugees.
Through the work of HIAS and the United Service for New Americans, Jews who had survived the Holocaust were gradually able to be reunited with their families in America.
In one striking picture, taken in December 1951, at the Hudson River, Helene Friedman of Brooklyn and her brother Leib – together with his wife, Estera and their five-year-old daughter Mirla – meet each other for the first time since they parted in their native Poland in 1934. A caption on the back of the picture says the family was among immigrants who arrived aboard the ship, the General Muir, which sailed from Bremerhaven under the auspices of the United Service for New Americans, an agency of the United Jewish Appeal.
“The Friedmans are immigrating here from Belgium under a special provision of the Amended DP (Displaced Persons) Act which now permits the immigration of DPs who found temporary haven in countries other than Germany, Austria and Italy.”
The pictures, from the HIAS collection, show family reunions and bewildered people who never believed they would see their loved ones again.